See but not quite hear the Beatles in Hammersmith, 1964


Recently, on a first trip to my hometown, London, since before the pandemic, my sister brought down from her attic an old stack of my vinyl albums that had been there since the sale of our late mother’s house there. Many years ago, by that time, I had already moved to Dublin.

I realized that, from a fairly popstorical point of view, what was left of my childhood record collection started with the Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, and ended with Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. . Seeing them reminded me that I could have claimed to have seen these two bands live, had it not been for a lung infection that kept me from going to the famous Pistols illicit word of mouth concert at Islington’s Screen on the Green. in 1977. (This was Sid Vicious’s first appearance with the band). As a friend said at the time, astonished by my concern for my own health: “I would rather die after seeing them than survive without them.

Sex Pistols photographed in 1976. File photo: PA

As for the Beatles, however, I was there, albeit as a rather bamboozled seven-year-old. My father, one of the early adopters of London swing, generously made sure that my older sister and I had all of the band’s first singles and albums and then, one day around Christmas 1964, produced tickets for the three of us to go. at one of their shows at Hammersmith Odeon.

I still remember, for example, that among Ringo’s dislikes, there were onions

At that time, my 12 year old sister was already a fanatic of the Beatlemaniacs. She had assembled thick albums of Moptop photos and articles, as well as her own drawings. Her favorite was Paul, of course. The booklets for the special Fab Four offer from Princess magazine also regularly fell into the letterbox and, sitting below her on the stairs, out of fear of a glance if I was wrong in my answers, I would be tested on the important revelations they contained. . I still remember, for example, that among Ringo’s dislikes were onions.

Later as a teenager she was able to record 14 views at various theaters of The Beatles’ first film, A Hard Day’s Night, and also, fabulously, a sighting of John and George at a Kensington High Street cafe, where she performed. grazed the shoulder of one of them.


The first thing I remember about the concert itself was the chill of the evening as we waited, waited and waited, to be ushered from under the new booming airlift into the theater.

The audience, teeming in the freezing wind, was almost entirely made up of teenage freaks. My dad and I shared a thoughtful look as the crowd suddenly began to push their way through the open doors.

In the auditorium, we were at the top of the gallery and it was difficult for me to see anything on stage as everyone was standing, including my sister in her John Lennon cap. During the supporting acts, including a non-entity group called The Yardbirds (lead guitarist Eric Clapton), the main excitement seemed to be the rumors of glimpses of a Beatle backstage, leading to sudden spasms of screams.

And then there was only noise. I briefly got to see the four characters as they rushed onto the stage

Squirm and scream

Next came the brave troopers Freddie and the Dreamers, whose main contribution was a routine where the little singer, Freddie Garrity, was placed behind a very high microphone and had to keep jumping on it to sing, after which his pants fell, revealing shorts. spotted.

This was repeated several times until the very tall guitarist adjusted the mic for him so he could sing their hit You Were Made for Me.

The Beatles: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in 1963. Photograph: David Redfern / Redferns via Getty

The Beatles: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon in 1963. Photograph: David Redfern / Redferns via Getty

And then there was only noise. I briefly got to see the four characters as they scurried across the stage, but then the wave of screams knocked me over and had to sit for most of the rest of the evening, trying to no avail. to look through a mass of waving limbs. . It was hard to make out most of the songs until the very last one, when John Lennon stepped forward and tore Twist and Shout, beautifully.

Outside, and quite stunned, we still hung around for centuries, hoping to be seen or autographed. I remember looking through a window in the basement of the theater at a Ludwig battery that someone said belonged to Ringo. Then we stood in line to buy a poster of the group waving the steps of an airplane, which we rolled up and brought home.

I’ve heard that Paul McCartney, together with poet Paul Muldoon, recently published a book about writing Beatles songs called The Lyrics. I have to take a look at it every now and then. I certainly didn’t hear them that night in 1964.


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